Celebrity Semester: FIU community hears from stars of music, fashion, literature and journalism

FIU’s campuses were a popular stop this year. See who stopped by.

By Martin Haro ’05

Pulitzer Prize winner Thomas Friedman, the New York Times foreign affairs columnist, headlined the February 2012 Geopolitical Summit, which focused on the crisis posed by the global economic recession. Speaking in the Graham Center Ballrooms at Modesto A. Maidique Campus, the journalist warned that Americans are not making the progress they need to survive the global economic turmoil, and that the American Dream will be lost if students don’t up their game. “Average is officially over.” he said. “Everyone has to find their extra-value added.”

Hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, the legendary founder of the Def Jam record label and philanthropist, kicked off the Student Government Association-BBC Lectures Series in February by encouraging students to be passionate about what they do. “Life is like a movie – you want to make sure you play the part in your life you want to play,” he said. “Find a way to be a leader, not a sheep.”

Journalist Sam Sifton, the New York Times national editor, discussed “Election 2012: How The New York Times Covers the Run for the Presidency” in March with a full house of students, alumni and faculty in the Mary Ann Wolfe Theater, as part of the BBC series. He focused on how journalism has evolved and, in particular, how social media like Twitter have changed the way journalists cover stories.

Actor Adrian Grenier from HBO’s Entourage shared how he navigated the “hyperrealism” of Hollywood, as well as what it was like for him to live the life of an in-demand actor “in a hall of mirrors.” He described how for a while he would walk into any room in Tinseltown and feel “that immediate and almost complete sense of approval” and what that does to the ego, as well as his thoughts on the cult of celebrity, images and the media. The actor was so determined to get his point across at the March event he even brought a visual aid: his 2010 documentary Teenage Paparazzo, which screened before his lecture.

Chilean author Isabel Allende charmed more than 500 in March with her honesty and wit. Allende came to FIU to receive the Creative Writing Program’s Lawrence Sanders Award, which recognizes fiction writers whose work combines literary excellence with popular appeal. In a candid and funny hour-long chat with Creative Writing Professor Debra Dean, Allende revealed quite a bit of herself to her fans.

“The person I am is the summary of everything else that has happened – the good and the bad,” Allende said. “Now that I’m 70 years old, I look back and say, ‘What would I change?’ I don’t think I would change anything. Of course, I’d want my daughter to be alive, but I am very happy she lived 28 years…. The joyful moments don’t teach you anything. It’s the suffering, the stress, the losses that make you the person you are.”

Fashion publicist Kelly Cutrone discussed with BBC students in April what it took to launch her own successful company, People’s Revolution, as well as her views on the ever-changing communications landscape.

Transgender activist Chaz Bono – best known as the only child of Cher and Sonny – spoke at BBC in April about his experiences making the transition from female to male. Bono chronicled his journey in his 2011 book, Transition: The Story of How I Became a Man, and shared stories about gaining acceptance from his family. He also addressed a range of LGBT issues, including marriage equality, the portrayal of gays and lesbians in the media and issues related to the coming out process.   

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